International Development Law Organization

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International Development Law Organization
Square blue logo.png
Abbreviation IDLO
Motto Creating a Culture of Justice
Formation January 1, 1983; 34 years ago (1983-01-01)
Type IGO
Headquarters Rome, Italy
Region served
Irene Khan
Affiliations United Nations

The International Development Law Organization (IDLO) is an intergovernmental organization dedicated to the promotion of the rule of law.

With a joint focus on the promotion of rule of law and development, it works to empower people and communities to claim their rights, and provides governments with the know-how to realize them,[1] it supports emerging economies and middle-income countries to strengthen their legal capacity and rule of law framework for sustainable development and economic opportunity.[2] It is the only intergovernmental organization with an exclusive mandate to promote the rule of law and has experience working in dozens of countries around the world.[3]

IDLO is headquartered in Rome, Italy and has a branch office in The Hague and is one of a number of entities that are United Nations General Assembly observers.

The only intergovernmental organization with an exclusive mandate to promote the rule of law, IDLO has operated in dozens of sovereign states, focusing on institution-building and legal empowerment,[4] its alumni network includes more than 20,000 legal professionals in 175 countries and 46 independent alumni associations.[5]

IDLO has signed MoUs with United Nations agencies, governments, universities, and other entities. Major financial contributions to IDLO have come from the Australian Agency for International Development, Gates Foundation, Center for International Forestry Research, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, European Union, Ford Foundation, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit, International Fund for Agricultural Development, Institute of Medicine, Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development, OPEC Fund for International Development, United Nations Development Programme, and UNICEF as well as numerous countries, namely Canada, China, Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and the United States.

Irene Khan is the Director-General of IDLO.


Founded in 1983 as an NGO called ‘The International Development Law Institute’ (IDLI) which aimed to provide training and technical assistance to developing countries.[6] IDLI was put into action by "[United States Agency for International Development (USAID)] seed money" by a group of people that included then USAID's former employee William T. Loris.[7][not in citation given] IDLI Chairman from 1983 to 1999 was Dr. Ibrahim Shihata (General counsel of the World Bank from 1983 to 1998). The Institute was re-founded as an inter-governmental organization international in 1991 (with France as President of the Assembly of parties) and renamed the International Development Law Organization.[8][not in citation given] In 2001 IDLO was granted Permanent Observer Status at the United Nations;[9] in 2013 IDLO opened a branch office in The Hague.[10]


Member States[edit]

As an inter-governmental organization, membership to the organization is made up of signatories to the Establishment Agreement of IDLO.[11] There are currently 27 Member Party states, the most recent country to become a member being El Salvador.[12]

The parties to IDLO’s Establishment Agreement are:

Governance Structure[edit]

Assembly of Parties[edit]

Member Party states form the Assembly of Parties, IDLO’s highest decision making body. Kuwait currently sits as President of the Assembly of parties while the US has won the vice-president post,[13] the role of the Assembly is to determine the IDLO's policies and oversee the work of the Director-General.


Irene Khan is the current Director-General, the first woman to hold the office, she was elected by Member Parties on 17 November 2011 and took up her position formally on 1 January 2012 for a term of four years.

International Advisory Council[edit]

IDLO’s International Advisory Council is composed of:[14]


IDLO has worked in dozens of countries around the world,[3] working with the belief that justice means ensuring fair outcomes in concrete, local terms.[15]


IDLO has been working in Somalia for the last thirty years, providing training to Somali legal professionals and technical assistance to the judiciary. Somali Prime Minister, Dr. Abdiweli Mohamed Ali has called IDLO "a premiere institution that is supporting Somalia on its journey to peace and stability."[16]

In recent years, IDLO has worked on supporting the development of a Somali constitution and in the integration of customary justice; in 2011 IDLO created an assessment of traditional and customary justice, arguing that linking customary and traditional justice in a bottom up approach would be most effective.[17]

Financed by the Italian government, IDLO worked with local experts on the country's provisional Constitution, holding consultative sessions with Mogadishu residents, refugees, and the Somali diaspora.[18]

Towards the adoption of the Constitution, IDLO helped produce a comparative analysis of the new draft Constitution, the Constitution of 1960 and the Transitional Federal Charter of 2004 and supported the Constitutional Affairs and Reconciliation Ministry in hosting a conference on fundamental rights and transitional justice.[19]

Following the adoption of the constitution by the National Constitution Assembly on 1 August 2012 IDLO drafted a report on providing analysis and suggestions for Justice and Security development under the new constitutional order, the report provides a description of steps to be taken during the implementation phase of the constitution, including the establishment of institutions, development and revision of legislative frameworks, and capacity building. It also sketches out dispute resolution mechanisms of the three legal systems in Somalia: xeer, Shari’ah, and the statutory judiciary.[20]

Comparing the draft constitution to those from 53 of the 56 member states of the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation, as well as the constitutions of Italy and the United States of America, IDLO found that it contained 36 of the 45 fundamental rights - placing it in the top five of the countries surveyed. The organization also stated that the Somali draft constitution contained 15 more than the Constitution of the United States of America.[21]


IDLO has been active in Afghanistan since 2002, stating their intent has been to restore rule of law in the country and develop a new idea of justice, while respecting the principles of Islam.[22] Primarily Afghan staff have been used to train legal professionals in the country.

Following a survey taken by the IDLO in 2013 which found that women made up just over 8 percent of the country’s judges, 6 percent of prosecutors and less than one fifth of lawyers, IDLO’s Director General Irene Khan called for greater participation of women in the Afghanistan’s justice sector.[23]

Women’s Rights[edit]

Whilst the Constitution of Afghanistan offers protection to women, domestic and sexual violence are common and considered a family matter, dealt through informal justice systems composed of male elders;[24] in June 2009, IDLO launched Afghanistan’s first Violence against Women Unit, with support from the office of the Attorney General of Afghanistan.[22] IDLO reports that in 2010 the unit handled more than 300 cases.[9]

In December 2010 The U.S. Department of State's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) contributed $12.1 million to expand and improve legal aid services to the poor and disempowered, increase public awareness of legal issues, rights and services, and improve the investigation and prosecution of crimes against women and girls.[25]

On 11 April 2013 INL announced it would provide IDLO a further $59 million for programmes in Afghanistan: $47 million to fund IDLO implement training programmes for the Afghan justice sector – the Justice Training Transition Program (JTTP) – and another $12 million for a separate IDLO program to provide support and training for prosecution of crimes against women.[26]

Allegations of Lack of Oversight[edit]

In January 2014 the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released a report highlighting it believed there to be a lack of oversight requirements in INL’s 2013 contract with IDLO in relation to JTTP . SIGAR had previously warned of a lack of monitoring in an ‘alert-letter’ to the State Department sent to the State Department on July 22, 2013,[27] the letter also accused IDLO of refusing to provide SIGAR with information regarding its budget, organizational structure and financial relationship with the US government.

In response to SIGAR’s 2013 statement, State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said that there were no allegations or evidence of fraud, waste or mismanagement in the program and that oversight was provided through daily contact on the ground;[28] in a letter responding to SIGAR’s claims, INL highlighted mechanisms of accountability and stated their confidence in the IDLO program.[29]

In a statement posted on their website IDLO called their monitoring and evaluation mechanisms ‘robust and extensive’. IDLO also refuted SIGAR’s statement that it had refused to provide information writing that they had met with SIGAR staff in April and May 2013.[30]

South Sudan[edit]

IDLO provided the newly established country of South Sudan with technical legal assistance; training the judiciary in both the fundamentals of common law and, during the process of transition away from a Shari’ah based legal system, in ‘legal’ English.[31]

With funding from the European Union in 2014, IDLO scaled up their work in South Sudan, delivering a series of context-specific training courses to 150 newly appointed judges and judicial support staff.[32]

IDLO also stated it was providing technical assistance in drafting a permanent Constitution for South Sudan.


Working with constitutional scholars Zachary Elkins and Tom Ginsberg, IDLO sponsored a group of constitutional scholars from universities in America to review drafts of the Kenyan constitution and provide feedback to the Kenyan Parliament.[33]

In 2013, USAID partnered with IDLO to assist the Government of Kenya develop the comprehensive laws and policies required under the new Constitution, assisting the Kenyan Parliament in reviewing, analysing and passing 55 laws, including 16 required by the Constitution.[34] Investigators in the project used data and analyzed from over 3000 constitutions in the world to share with Kenya’s Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution (CIC) an analysis of the constitutional implementation process.[35] IDLO also implemented projects to strengthen the capacity of the judiciary and engage the public in the process.[36] IDLO has also stated that they are working with the government of Kenya to advance gender equality across the country and enact gender provisions contained in the Constitution[37]

An independent report found that its work in Kenya had provided support and services were delivered to fulfil identified needs COE and ensured the delivery trainings to educate Kenyans on the proposed Constitution before it was put to a national referendum, despite some challenges, the report notes, IDLO consultants produced and delivered high quality technical reports and services which eventually contributed to the final version of the Constitution of KenyaRolene Guilland (17 November 2009). Supporting the Committee of Experts on cCnstitutional Review (PDF) (Report). Retrieved 25 January 2011. .

A permanent IDLO regional office was set up in Kenya in 2011.

Women and Girls[edit]

In a speech at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, Director-General Irene Khan highlighted the importance of law in empowering women:

"A core principle of the rule of law is that we are all equal - equally protected by the law and equally accountable to it."[38]

The organization’s website states that across all of its programs, IDLO works to empower women;[39] in February 2013 IDLO released a report on women’s access to justice, with a focus on improving customary justice for women.[40]

Customary Justice[edit]

IDLO has a number of times, including at the UN,[41] emphasized the importance of working with informal or customary justice systems and has released three edited volumes on customary justice.[42]


The current Director General of IDLO Irene Khan was hired by IDLO after having been forced out of the position of Secretary-General at Amnesty International, as Khan refused to leave the position amicably after having received notification from Amnesty International's Board of Directors known as the International Executive Committee (IEC), the IEC was forced to pay Khan to remove her from office. The amount of payment was £533,103 (which was US$879,619.95 at the then prevailing exchange rate). IEC Chairman Peter Pack stated that paying off Khan was "the least worst option" available to IEC to get her to leave.[43] The amount of the payout was quadruple Khan's annual salary of £132,490 ($218,608.5). The amount paid out to Khan and her deputy (who was also removed by IEC) amounted to 4% of Amnesty International's budget that year.[44] Amnesty International, in part, receives its funding from "money-raising campaigns among young people and in schools".[45] In the wake of this scandal some pointed out that Khan held herself out as a "campaigner against poverty"[43] Internal disclosure of this amount caused "anger and puzzlement" among Amnesty International staff, the public disclosure of the amount of payoff made to Khan caused a popular outcry,[45] with a number of individual donors canceling their donations to Amnesty International. The organization was hurt by this scandal and by choosing to pay Khan to leave, with Chairman Pack promising to make amends and move the organization forward following Khan's departure.[43] Naftali Balanson of NGO-Monitor said that the highly usually large payouts caused Amnesty "great damage".[46] An independent and confidential report by Dame Anne Owers criticized both the settlements reached with Kahn and her deputy and Amnesty International's management, with Owers finding that the amounts paid were higher than what had been reported by Amnesty, and that Amnesty paid Kahn's legal fees. Owers called the payouts "seriously excessive" and "wholly inappropriate" stating that only half of the amount could be explained as a contractual obligation.[47] Tory MP Philip Davis called the payout "ludicrous," stating the following: "I am sure people making donations to Amnesty, in the belief they are alleviating poverty, never dreamed they are subsidizing a fat cat payout".[48] An anonymous Amnesty donor interviewed by the British daily Express had the following to say on the subject: "I won't be giving any more money. How can this woman lecture the world about abuses and then walk off with this staggering amount of cash?".[48] Seeking to save the organization's donor base IEC Chairman rushed to assure the donor that there would be no repetition of the Kahn payout stating the following: "the new secretary general, with the full support of the IEC, has initiated a process to review our employment policies and procedures to ensure that such a situation does not happen again," adding that Amnesty was "fully committed to applying all the resources that we receive from our millions of supporters to the fight for human rights".[citation needed]

In 2003, Irene Khan wrote a piece titled Security for Whom? in which she, inter alia, accused the occupying force in Afghanistan (US and its allies) of "mass killings".[44]

In 2005, Irene Khan penned the introduction to that year's Amnesty International report in which she, inter alia, referred to the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay as "the gulag of our time," accusing the United States of "thumb[ing] its nose at the rule of law and human rights [as] it grants a licence to others to commit abuse with impunity".[45] Much backlash followed in the media. Michael Totten of World Affairs called her a "hysterical heavy-breather".[46] An editorial opinion in the Washington Post referred to it as "[i]t is ALWAYS SAD when a solid, trustworthy institution loses its bearings and joins in the partisan fracas that nowadays passes for political discourse".[47] John Podhoretz of the New York Post said that "[t]he case of Amnesty International proves that well-meaning people can make morality their life's work and still be little more than moral idiots."[48] In his The United Nations, Peace and Security, Ramesh Thakur called Khan's likening of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility to a gulag a "hyperbole" that is "wrong".[49] Commentary on Europe's Ariel Cohen said that Khan's statement was a product of being "blinded by a hatred of U.S. policies," "deception or deep[] ignoran[ce]," stating to that statement Khan, reportedly, added "[i]ronic that this should happen as we mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz".[50] Cohen stated that he is "incensed at Amnesty's gall in trivializing [the suffering of prisoners in Soviet gulags that included his grandfather] for political purposes. A former Soviet prisoner of conscience, Pavel Litvinov, told the Amnesty International staffer, who called him to inquire on behalf of Khan whether it would be appropriate to use the word 'gulag' in an Amnesty report and in relation in the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, that there was "an enormous difference" between the gulags and the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.[51] Roger Kimball of Arma Virumque called it "a preposterous remark".[52] In a letter to the editor of The New York Times, Margers Pinnis demanded that Khan issue "an apology to the peoples of all nations who suffered under the inhuman conditions of the Soviet Union's notorious prison system",[53] the Bush Administration responded to it in the following manner: President Bush called it "an absurd allegation;" Vice President Cheney said he was "offended by it;" Defense Secretary Rumsfeld called it "reprehensible" and "those who make such outlandish charges los[ing] any claim to objectivity or seriousness".[54] Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Myers called it "absolutely irresponsible"[55] The White House spokesman Scott McClellan called the characterization "ridiculous".[56] Anne Applebaum, the author of Gulag: A History, found this characterization "infuriating," stating that "Amnesty misus[ed] language [and] discard[ed] its former neutrality" and that it "attack[ed] the American government for the satisfaction of [the Amnesty's] own political faction".[57] However, not everyone rallied against Khan's 'gulag' characterization. Retired US State Department officer Edmund McWilliams who monitored prisoner abuse committed in the Soviet Union and Vietnam stated the following in support of Khan's characterization: "I note that abuses that I reported on in those inhumane systems parallel abuses reported in Guantanamo, at the Bagram air base in Afghanistan and at the Abu Ghriab prison: prisoners suspended from the ceiling and beaten to death; widespread "waterboarding;" prisoners "disappeared" to preclude monitoring by the International Committee of the Red Cross—and all with almost no senior-level accountability".[58] After having received virtually no support for her characterization of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility Khan did not retract it and continued insisting on its propriety and correctness.[59]

In 2005, the US released 4 British detainees from the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, the British-Pakistani national Moazaam Begg was among those released. It appears that the US never dropped terrorism charges against Begg but that he was released for being a British national and in the course of the UK challenging the legal procedures applied to its nationals detained at Guantanamo. Upon release Begg started an organization CagePrisoners that sought to "empower communities impacted by the War on Terror" ( Among other things, Begg and his organization were active supporters of the Taliban, they advocated for 'defensive jihad,' and were associated with individuals designated as terrorists by the United States, such as for instance, Anwar al-Awlaki, at one of CagePrisoners events Awlaki was quoted as saying the following: “We should make jihad for our brothers and an angel will make the same jihad for you" ( At another CagePrisoners event Awlaki was quoted as saying that Muslims should study Prophet Mohammad's early experiences to understand that they do not need to give warnings before they attack ( Under Khan's stewardship Amnesty forged an alliance with Begg and CagePrisoners ( Then Amnesty's Head of Amnesty's Gender Unit Gita Sahgal characterized Begg as "Britain's most famous supporter of the Taliban," stating that while it was legitimate for Amnesty to give Begg a platform for his experiences at Guantanamo, associating his organization with Amnesty was "a gross error" and that the Amnesty's senior management should not "underestimate the level of horror expressed through the global women's movement" on account of Amnesty forging such an association.[citation needed]

In 2010, speaking at a Salford University conference Khan referred to the pre-9/11 British anti-terrorism laws as "draconian," noting that those laws that rendered al-Qaida "a banned organization" in the UK before the 9/11 attacks (keynote lecture at Salford University). Kahn further described the US policy of war on terror as "breathtakingly shameless doublespeak" and a "global web of abuse."[citation needed]

Kahn's criticism of the US government, whether for maintaining the Guantanamo Bay detention facility or otherwise, ended with her installation as IDLO Director General, an organization where the US government plays an active and key role both as a donor and as a member, as did her association with Begg and tacit endorsement of 'defensive jihad.'[citation needed] The workplace information aggregator Glassdoor lists 16 reviews of IDLO made by current and former employees.[49] All but 2 of them are negative, with titles such as "Terrible Working Experience" and "Stay Far Away from This Organization" interspersed with ones of less intense disapproval. The vast majority of the disapproval notes poor management, with the current Director General's approval rating being at 21%, according to Glassdoor, some of the most intense criticism of IDLO includes but is not limited to the following: (1) "poor direction and management;" (2) "staff hiring process completely opaque and steeped in nepotism;" (3) "well-known and well-documented cases of mobbing and victimization yet nothing is done;" (4) "poor management of program finance [sic]" and "inefficient use of [...] funds;" (5) "promotion and salary negotiation lacks any kind of established procedure;" (6) "most staff are unhappy and there is always a high turnover;" (7) "there are no internal staff regulations and no proper HR;" (8) "no transparency;" (9) "low staff moral [sic] (should be 'morale'); (10) "top management creates a climate of fear and nepotism which is the "rule of laW;" and (11) "top management competence level is that low that it is questionable if they are able to rescue and turn this important organization in the right direction."[citation needed]

Top management competence level is that low that it is questionable if they are able to rescue and turn this important organisation in the right direction.[citation needed]

Wikileaks-published US government cables of 2009 exposed the type of horsetrading that went into the election of IDLO's Director General that year, with the US government trying to get its candidate in (;;;;

The US government's Office of Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) investigated IDLO's program in Afghanistan titled 'Justice Training Transition Program' (JTTP) funded with $47.8 million of US taxpayer's money. The investigation was conducted by SIGAR at the request of Senator Claire McCaskill who has maintained a long-standing position that she "ha[s] serious concerns about the effectiveness of the [Justice Sector Support Program] (that was transitioned to IDLO under the name 'JTTP' but without any changes in substance)".[50] JTTP was funded by the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) of the United States Department of State. It was and remains to-day the State Department's largest justice program in the world, on July 22, 2013, SIGAR issued an alert letter to Secretary of State John Kerry alerting Secretary Kerry to the following: (1) JTTP was granted to IDLO as a sole source award (absent any competitive process); (2) there were very few oversight provisions in the State Department's contract with IDLO; (3) State Department told SIGAR that "they d[id] not have the authority to demand basic organizational and project information from IDLO because it is an international organization;" (4) State Department violated its own contracting policy when it issued the JTTP contract to IDLO; (5) SIGAR found that "IDLO is ill-prepared to manage and account for how U.S.-taxpayer funds will be spent on the JTTP; (6) in the years leading up to JTTP IDLO's funding had decreased; (7) IDLO lacks proper international financial certifications; and (8) IDLO refused to fully comply with SIGAR's repeated requests for information. SIGAR concluded that "it was ill-considered for [the State Department] to have awarded almost $50 million to an organization that may not have the ability to account for the use of those funds, under an agreement in which [the State Department] failed to require proper provisions for oversight".[51] SIGAR stated that in light of IDLO's refusal to provide information "it may [...] be necessary to subpoena IDLO to compel the production of any and all records IDLO possesses related to its operations in Afghanistan".[51] IDLO responded by calling the SIGAR assessment contained in the alert letter of July 22, 2013 "incorrect".[52] State Department sought to defend its position by justifying his sole-source award to IDLO by stating that "they are the best positioned to do this work, period, as they are the only not-for-profit intergovermental organization that is exclusively dedicated to working with governments to promote the rule of law",[53] without elaborating on this assertion in any manner that could reasonably allay SIGAR's substantive and detailed concerns. In January 2014, SIGAR issued a full report entitled 'Support for Afghanistan's Justice Sector: State Department Programs Need Better Management and Stronger Oversight'.[54] In that report SIGAR found the following in relation to IDLO: (1) JTTP was transferred to IDLO despite the management and financial challenges IDLO was facing at the time; (2) IDLO's high leadership turnover and budgetary shortfalls, by IDLO's own admission, raised serious questions about the future sustainability of the organization; (3) State Department has limited authority to oversee IDLO's work; and (4) State failed to secure contractual provisions to oversee IDLO. Despite this report JTTP was allowed to proceed without changes.[citation needed]

SIGAR launched a fresh investigation into IDLO in December, 2015.[citation needed] In 2016, the US Department of Justice launched an investigation of certain individuals associated with IDLO's Justice Training Transition Program.

Describing the early days of IDLO in Afghanistan, some have summed up its key achievements as follows: (1) "rent[ing]" one of the largest NGO offices in Kabul;" and (2) "creati[ng] a digital compilation of Afghan laws that it declined to share" (Deena Hurwitz et al, Human Rights Stories). A former Interior Minister of Afghanistan describes Italy's efforts, that were largely conducted through IDLO, in the following manner: "Italian-sponsored justice sector reform suffers from a very low level of human resources and infrastructure capacity" (id).


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External links[edit]